After 100,000+ Hours of Listening My Favorite Top 10 Classical/Symphonic/Opera Music

Newberry, Puccini, oil on linen, 60x70"

For decades I have listened to classical music every day while painting. Here are my favorite and most inspiring recordings:

No 1: Puccini, Turandot

Conducted by Zubin Mehta. Sutherland, Pavarotti, Caballe, Chiaurov, Krause, Pears, John Alldis Choir. London Philharmonic Orchestra.
This opera and recording represent one of the greatest art achievements of the 20th century. In 1925 Puccini died before completing the last act, it premiered in 1926 at La Scala conducted by Arturo Toscanini. This recording has great singers, great performances, beautifully and passionately conducted, and fresh clean sound. This recording inspired my painting of Puccini and Denouement. My aesthetic takeaway from this opera was that it integrated romance, epic setting, beautiful and exotic color/sound harmonies, gorgeous melodies, powerful chorus, the battle of the sopranos, and maintained the big picture driving towards powerful closings of each act. My painting Denouement was the result of translating this aesthetic from music into paint.

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Pushing the Composition Envelope, Melissa Hefferlin Still Lifes

Effortless Complexity and Boundless Imagination

Decades ago, Melissa Hefferlin told me that growing up, whenever she did something wrong,  her scientist dad would sit her down with paper and pen to make columns of pros, cons, and alternatives to her bad behavior. She dreaded these episodes (apparently they took place fairly often). But they served her artistic mind very well, especially in composition.

Challenge to Picasso and Vermeer

Art is very complex with many elements such as color, light, form, emotion, imagination, subject, etc. But composition is the granddaddy of fine art. Composition in painting and drawing is the arrangement of contours on a flat surface. Two important parts of it are groupings and the balance of the entire work. To try to create something new in composition is a daunting task and throws down a challenge to Vermeer and Picasso. It seems that Melissa is unfazed by the project. 

In full disclosure, I mentored Melissa in the early 1990s, but I can’t claim any credit for her brilliance since then. 

 Groupings

Hefferlin, Journey of a Higher Hare, oil on linen, 36” x 29″

In Higher Hare, my photoshop markups below reveal the play of a triangular pattern in the cloth, table, and part of the wall. When an artist is composing they have some flexibility to accent patterns they see or sense, Melissa takes full advantage of utilizing these angles. Another artist might not see them and paint only what he/she literally sees, but that doesn’t create these almost music-like beats. 

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The Great Fraud, How Postmodernism Abuses Art

Michelangelo, Study of Haman for the Sistine Chapel, 1511, red chalk.

TuftsPUBLIC: Jenny Polak: ICE Escape Signs

Tufts University is running a protest against ICE–in the guise of being art. Everyone involved in this project may be well intentioned, but what does this have to do with art? The message of the protest has nothing to do with art, but as art it’s one I am disgusted by: the anti-conceptual degradation of art.

Art has a very special aura of the sublime, the ultimate, and the universality of a higher nature. The best in art is evolutionary. It elevates our knowledge, expands our emotional capabilities, and enriches our senses. For instance, Monet furthering our knowledge of colors of shadows and natural light. Michelangelo showed us what a fearless stance against huge obstacles looks like (The David), and he did so with his revolutionary means of transcribing touch to sight. And Polyclitus showed us how the science of beauty works through proportions. These artists and many more, both in history and contemporary times, amongst whom I am proud to count myself, contribute towards giving art profound meaning.

The Tufts project by Jenny Polak does two things that are now-classic postmodern sabotage. They use the esteemed status of art, made possible by great artists, to elevate a protest to a grander status. And by dedicating their reputation, resources, and their art department to juvenile protest posters scattered around the campus they suck the life out of aesthetic innovation, advancement, and the soul of art.

Michael Newberry
Idyllwild, July 20, 2019

Below is from the Tufts University website.

TuftsPUBLIC: Jenny Polak: ICE Escape Signs
Weems Atrium / SMFA, Media Wall / Aidekman
Various Locations throughout Medford Campus

JENNY POLAK: ICE Escape Signs is the 2018-2019 Tufts PUBLIC project, a program of yearlong, temporary public art projects designed for spaces outside the Art Galleries and throughout the school’s Medford/Somerville and SMFA campuses.

Jenny Polak makes site and community responsive art that reframes immigrant-citizen relations, amplifying demands for social justice. Originally from England, her work draws on her background in architecture and socially engaged projects, as well as her own family history of migration. She focuses on detention centers, racial profiling, and strategies for surviving hostile authorities. As an exhibiting artist in the upcoming exhibition Walls Turned Sides: Artists Confront the Justice System (coming to TUAG Spring 2020), Polak will work with the Tufts community to create a series of site-respondent signs throughout campus beginning in the fall as part of her ongoing series – ICE Escape Signs. A decentered public art project, ICE Escape Signs are designed for specific floorplans and draw attention to the fact that people are living in daily fear of being caught in a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Ex-Student Chan Luu’s Recent Painting Floating Flowers

Lovely new painting from one of my ex star students

Chan Luu, Floating Flowers, oil on linen, 2019

Today Chan sent me her newest work finished today. I wrote back to her, “It is has mystery, and it seems the petals form from chaos, beautiful use of the white and darks, and very elegant composition, a masterwork.”

Chan Luu is a fashion designer icon, yet 10 years ago she came to mentor with me and to learn everything she could about painting, drawing, and pastels. About a year ago she stopped studying with me but continued painting on her own, I am so proud of her ability to make such powerful and delicate works. I am always excited when students gain the knowledge to create whatever they want and have acquired the skill set that gives them that freedom. Yay to Chan and all my ex-students who have matured so beautifully as artists.

France! April-May 2019

Beziers Residence of Bonnie and Robin Priest

A Visit with My Friends/Collectors in their Palatial Home

Beziers Residence of Bonnie and Robin Priest
Beziers Residence of Bonnie and Robin. Before my pastel art workshop started with Art Provence Experiences and Workshops, I had a few days to visit my friends Bonnie and Robin in their palatial home.

Visiting Beziers and Making Amends

About 6 years ago I flew in and out of France to give a workshop. When my European/American friend Bonnie found out that I’d been there, she was terribly disappointed that I didn’t visit. This year I gave Bonnie and her husband Robin notice that I had 3 extra days before my art workshop would begin in Provence. To my great delight, both of them managed to come from London (main residence) and Germany (work) so that I could stay with them at their Beziers home!

Artworks Are Like Puppies

My painting curtains in the guest bedroom in Beziers
The guest suite where I stayed had my little acrylic Curtains and the Turkish Windows.

It was an opportunity to catch up with dear friends, to get updates on their adult kids –who I knew before they were born – and revisit some of my works and those of some of my past students. People say paintings are like the artist’s children, but that is hyperbole. Perhaps a better analogy is that an artist is like the head of a dog shelter and the pups are under his care until he finds loving homes for them.

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John’s Sunset by Michael Newberry

Newberry, John's Sunset, Charcoal on Rives BFK, 26x19"

My brother committed suicide and this is a memorial drawing.

Newberry, John's Sunset, Charcoal on Rives BFK, 26x19"
Newberry, John’s Sunset, Charcoal on Rives BFK, 26×19″ Studio Collection. A few years ago I got the sad news of my brother’s passing. The moment I heard I knew I would be doing a memorial drawing. I was a little scared to do it, I didn’t get along with him, and I thought it would be very painful. The drawing took about 25 hours, from life. We grew up in La Jolla, and atop Mt. Solidad is a large cross made from cement, I guess it is 30 ft, perhaps much smaller when I see it again as an adult. At the top of the glass rim, was a glint of light which I wanted to suggest as a cross. John was discovered floating in the La Jolla Cove. The most surprising thing for me while drawing this, was that my memories were softened by empathy.

A Reddit commentator gave condolences and then wrote “I love the grain of the table magnified by the water in the glass.” That names so well the visual.

The Problem with Glass

Michelangelo paints and draws humans not so much how he sees them but what his hands would feel massaging their bodies. Bone stands out and soft spots become indented. Glass is tricky because we literally see through it but if you draw it that way it doesn’t feel tactically real. See if you can observe that the patterns inside the glass float up to the front side of the glass; as if you could reach out and tap the glass.